In his latest diatribe against the UN, Prime Minister Hun Sen boasted Wednesday about Cambodia’s legal system and pointed to failures and troubles caused by meddling foreigners.
Following the premier’s induction into the Cambodian Bar Association, a reporter asked him if his membership in the bar was intended to lend credibility to Cambodia’s courts, particularly in light of an expected UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Hun Sen said it did not.
“I did not do it to suit the foreigners’ purpose. Cambodia has its independent spirit,” he replied.
The extent of foreign judges’ involvement in the Khmer Rouge tribunal has been a point of contention in the often-tense five years of negotiations between the government and the UN.
Most human rights groups and prospective donor nations have called for foreign involvement, while the government has sought to retain control of the trials since Hun Sen and then-first Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh requested UN assistance in June 1997.
The question has been
whether the Cambodian judiciary, which is widely perceived as being prone to political interference, corruption and incompetence, could hold a credible Khmer Rouge tribunal on its own.
According to Hun Sen, Cambodia’s legal system stands just as good a chance as the UN does in bringing the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice.
“When the Khmer Rouge was strong, who bowed their heads to the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh? It was Untac. It was the UN,” he said.
The prime minister continued, praising the various players in a legal system perennially deemed in desperate need of reform by donors, who provide roughly $500 million dollars a year in aid to Cambodia.
“We trust our judges, our prosecutors, our investigating lawyers and our lawyers. Can you trust that all white skin and all the foreigners in the world have justice? And the Khmers have no justice? What?” the prime minister asked.
A recent response by donors to a new government anti-corruption strategy acknowledged the efforts of the Council of Legal and Judicial Reform in coming up with an “action plan.”
But “continuing impunity, corruption and the failure to enforce existing laws” remained a point of concern.
Going back to the tribunal, Hun Sen said, “I think that some [international] judges will be sent in the future, we can see that. They will be the same as the students of the Cambodian judges.”
He explained that the foreigners’ underestimation of Cambodia resulted from the conflicts of the recent past. But the Khmer nation’s self-esteem needs improvement too, he added.
“Some people in Cambodia believe only the foreigner. Even though the foreigner takes them to die, they still go with him. What is Khmer, they never believed. I think that it is time for the Khmer to promote his own value,” he said.